Sunday, June 1, 2014


(April 2002, U.S.)

For this post, I'm discussing a film called MY BIG FAT EGYPTIAN FAMILY (What?? What did he just say?? That's not right! WTF???). You think I'm kidding? Not really. Let me explain...

I was born in the United States, but I'm half Egyptian on my mother's side. She was born and raised in the city of Cairo and came to this country in the early 1960s with the rest of her family. She's one of eight (yes, I said eight children!) in a family that's always found much joy in life be eating great food, being real loud, staying in each other's lives and each other's business. A family that was ultimately run with an iron first by a towering patriarch (my grandfather) who was head of the household and married to a loyal and loving woman (my grandmother) who served as the neck (sound familiar?). On top of my mom's own immediate family, she was always surrounded by aunts, uncles and a multitude of first and second cousins who also loved to eat, shout and stay in each other's life and business (sounding more familiar?). Now let's add to that the fact that when she came to this country, she met my father - an American man who was an only child and had only four first cousins (really sounding familiar??). You think I'm still kidding? Rest assured, I'm not, and I can very safely say that I could easily accuse writer and star of MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING Nia Vardalos of brazenly ripping off a piece of my own family's life and history and putting it up on the big screen for her own profit and stardom. But I'm not alone, am I? How many American families out there of vast and different ethnic backgrounds with relatives who are loud, in-your-face, in-your-business eaters cannot make the same claim as myself? Art very often imitates life, and if it just happens to be your life that art is imitating...well, as the patriarch character of Kostas Portokalos (played by Michael Constantine) would say..."There you go."

So picture it in your head...a middle class Greek American woman Toula Portokalos from the city of Chicago who falls in love with a non-Greek upper middle class "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" Ian Miller (played by the quintessential boyfriend John Corbett). At it's root, the film is, of course, a rather touching girl-meets-guy, girl-and-guy-overcome-family-prejudice-obstacles, girl-and-guy-get-married-and-live-happily-ever-after kind of love story and that's real nice to watch on screen. But one can't ignore the background theme of determination and spirit that ultimately transforms a woman that looks like this in the beginning... something a whole lot better...

Toula is a woman in the beginning who's not particularly looking to get married and make babies, as her father thinks she should do as quickly as possible before she gets too old, but is more determined not to end up in the rut of the family Greek restaurant business and watch the best years of her life go by without a greater effort. It begins with simple computer courses at the local college where she can finally achieve her tiny social dream of sitting at the lunch table with the so-called "cool and delicate" girls and eat her delicious Wonder Bread sandwich (because apparently, what's more American than Wonder Bread, right??). With an independence from such a tight family comes the ability to not only move on with one's career, but to also express herself more freely when it comes to romance. Upon meeting and dating Ian, she knows from the get-go that her family will object to his not being Greek, and while she feels that her romance with him may be ultimately doomed, the poor girl still can't help herself. That's true love, I suppose. Upon further consideration, however, one can't help but wonder just how Toula managed to hit the jackpot of good boyfriend fortune on her first try. This guy is not only wonderful and available, but also very willing to bend over backwards to allow himself to be (kindly and gently) ruled and controlled by his fiancé's family. I mean, would you be willing to be baptized in oil and water in a small inflatable swimming pool for the one you love?? Is anybody worth that? Perhaps.

As for the Portokalos family themselves...well, they're just as Toula describes them in the beginning; loud, always eating, always in each other's business and generally non-conforming to anyone and anything that's not Greek until true love's acceptance and tolerance finally brings them around in the end. Maybe that sounds like your family, maybe it doesn't. It certainly sounded a lot like the family of half-Greek actress Rita Wilson, who saw the original one-woman show of MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING with husband Tom Hanks and convinced him to produce the film version with her. All I, and so many others of American origin and ethnic roots and typically loud, annoying families can say is, we're glad she did and we're glad we were given such a great sleeper hit that continued on into the Summer of 2002 that was dominated by blockbusters like SPIDER-MAN, STAR WARS: EPISODE II-ATTACK OF THE CLONES and MEN IN BLACK II!

As for my own mother, I can only tell you that when she first saw this film, her reaction was very close to my own. There were many on-screen relatives she could relate to from her own childhood and history in Egypt, particularly the character of Aunt Voula (played by Andrea Martin). I'm sure I can recall my mom's description and stories of at least one or two aunts she had in her life that were truly loving and perhaps very overbearing and also very in-her-face. However, I'd leave it to any of my first cousins who hold a tighter connection to their Egyptian heritage than I do to come up with the correct name(s) of such an aunt. Her family and all of its extension are just too damn big for me to remember all of their names. I'm generally better with faces. So that all being said, I suppose it's only fitting that I dedicate this post to my mother's side of my family and all of it's extensions (including my own multitude of first cousins!). They're big, they're loud, they're annoying, they're a tad obnoxious and they all cook some amazingly delicious fucking food! So what's not to love about that?? Oh, and by the way, in my family, there are no vegetarians that I'm aware of. We all eat meat! Anyone who didn't eat meat would very likely bring a crowded room to a dead silence of shock and puzzlement, just as Ian Miller's vegetarianism does. But that's okay. We like lamb, too!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Toula Portokalos: "I'm Greek, right?"
Ian Miller: "Right?"
Toula: "So, what happens is my dad and uncles, they fight over who gets to eat the lamb brain. And then my aunt Voula forks the eyeball and chases me around with it, try to get me to eat it, 'cause it's gonna make me smart. So, you have two cousins, I have twenty-seven first cousins. Just twenty-seven first cousins alone! And my whole family is big and loud. And everybody is in each other's lives and business. All the time! Like, you never just have a minute alone, just to think 'cause we're always together, just eating, eating, eating! The only other people we know are Greeks, 'cause Greeks marry Greeks to breed more Greeks, to be loud, breeding Greek eaters!"

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